Noble PR (Pure/Reference) Review
Having owned the Noble 4 (Universal) I am quite content to finally acquire a close-to-reference IEM. Although my goal was for a true reference IEM, I settled with the Noble 4 because unlike ER4s I don’t have to give up comfort over sound.
A couple of months ago, Noble Audio recently released a couple of innovative products to add to their line of universal IEMs. These are the “Switch” Universals: variable-tuning IEMs namely the Noble FR and PR. They feature two sets of BA drivers and passive crossovers that allow the user to change sound signatures by simply toggling a switch on the faceplate. This is probably one of the first, if not the first IEM to basically have two monitors in one casing.
Noble PR (pure reference)
P configuration (switch up) – Transparent, detailed, precise. Transparency and precision are all that matters here. P stands for pure.
R configuration (switch down) – Analytical, resolving, fast. An analytical sound with an emphasis on clarity. R stands for reference.
• Two separate configurations, two dedicated crossover networks
• P configuration impedance > 240 ohms
• 2 balanced-armature drivers
• R configuration impedance > 30 ohms
• 1 balanced-armature driver
• Detachable cable with industry-standard 2-pin configuration
• Rose gold plated pentalobe screws
For more info: http://nobleaudio.com/products/universal/switch/
Noble Audio knew of my search for a true reference IEM and asked me if I was interested in reviewing the Noble PR to see if this is the true reference IEM I was looking for. I humbly accepted the opportunity and now we are here to check if the Noble PR can perform as per reference standards.
SETUP: Colorfly C3 > JDS Labs C5
iMac 2011 > Stoner Acoustics UD110v2 > JDS Labs C5
16/44 FLAC and ALAC
Dr. Chesky’s Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc
Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (…and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Tina Turner - Greatest Hits
Roxette - Greatest Hits
The contents in the box are similar to the Noble 4 (universal) package as shown above.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX: The Noble PR came in a well thought of package; the content is surrounded by a perfectly cut-to-form foam for maximum protection from external forces. Inside is a magnificent Noble branded black otter box which I find really well built and projects quality impression. Inside the otter box, I was greeted with a generous amount of tips in various types and form. An IEM cleaning tool is also present along with a couple of Noble bands, stickers, and a Noble owner’s card. Last but not the least is the Noble PR IEM and a 1.2 meter braided cable with dual prong connectors.
The noble cable is durable, light, non-microphonic, and supple making it one of the best custom cables I've ever tried.
NOBLE R Configuration - REFERENCE (switch down)
SOUND: The Noble Reference aims to sound flat across all frequencies and it seems to deliver in this category. BASS is surprisingly detailed and textured despite the lack of weight in the sub-bass to project the ideal depth. Sub-bass is still present despite a slight roll-off thus sounding quite faint and is no where near as visceral as most dynamic driver IEMs. However, the quality is top notch and I’ve never missed a bass guitar note; not even in complex songs where notes can get messy/muddy with most bass boosted headphones. Bass is tuned very close to flat although quantity is highly dependent on the tips used. I discovered that bi-flange tips work really well in keeping the integrity of the tuning. In terms of performance, the bass has speed and probably the quickest decay I’ve heard from an IEM so far. MIDS is also superbly detailed and perfectly balanced with the lower frequencies nullifying any chance of bleeding. Vocals are very engaging and seem to be the main focus in the overall presentation. The overall tonality is a bit cold and analytical. Timbre is very close to neutral and the listener can definitely admire the realism in its projection. HIGHS is well controlled and kept in line with the rest of the frequencies showing no signs of exaggerated peaks nor dips. This allows the Noble Reference to have great detail and resolution without sounding harsh nor sibilant. Treble is well extended... not the best I’ve heard but quite possibly on par with the Etymotic ER4s. Micro detail is easily heard without effort and airiness is quite good. PRESENTATION is very intimate in my experience. The Noble Reference has a neutral sound signature with a presentation that's focused on vocals. Soundstage width is average but surprisingly expands wider when the track calls for it. Instrument separation is also decent with ample distance between instruments. Imaging is quite good although it doesn’t exhibit a 3D-like presentation. The listener is placed really close to the stage and can project a closed-in feel depending on how the track was mixed/mastered.
I can imagine that the “Reference” mode will be of use to someone who needs a break from a serious listening session. It doesn’t have any enhanced section across all frequencies and so it paves a way for a laid back listening experience for as long as the source material is of excellent quality. Keep in mind that transparency is one of the key traits of this IEM so lossless files are preferred for a more satisfying experience. Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lot of power to drive so a good old iPod will suffice in achieving a satisfying performance.
The switch functions really well and seamlessly transitions between R and P modes.
NOBLE P Configuration - PURE (switch up)
SOUND: If I was to describe the Noble Pure sound with one word, that would be “DETAIL”. This can possibly compete with the rest of the detail monsters out there; and having heard the Tralucent 1Plus2 (original version) I can attest that the Noble “Pure” is definitely in the same league in terms of detail retrieval. BASS quantity and quality are very similar to the Noble Reference but somehow I find the Noble Pure's bass more revealing. I honestly have difficulty justifying my findings because doing A/B comparison between the two modes is a challenge. After so many hours of comparison, I decided to stick with how I felt about the music in between modes. I found the bass in Pure mode to be more satisfying and cleaner but I must admit that I lack the evidence to support my conclusion based on how I felt. My apologies to everyone for I do not have the technological means to measure deviations or differences in the IEM’s performance. MIDS is again superbly detailed and perfectly balanced with the low end nullifying any chance of bleeding. Vocals are well placed and sit perfectly in line with the overall presentation. There’s a slight emphasis (not a peak) in the upper mid-range that amplifies clarity/transparency and as a result, the overall tonality is colder and more analytical compared to the Reference mode. HIGHS is also slightly emphasised specifically in the lower treble but it’s still in line with the upper mid-range with no exaggerated peaks. This allows the Noble PR to extract the most detail and resolution out of a track but at the cost of being borderline sibilant. If the track was originally mixed/mastered with emphasis on the treble, the Noble Pure will reveal it easily. On the other hand, if the track excels on how it was mixed/mastered then the Noble Pure will capitalise on that and bring the most satisfying experience in terms of detail, clarity, and transparency. Treble is also well extended and on par with the Etymotic Research ER4s. Micro detail is easily one of the best I’ve heard in an IEM and the airiness also adds more breathing space for its excellent sound resolution. PRESENTATION is quite unique in my experience. The Noble Pure has a neutral/reference sound signature with a little bit of emphasis in the upper mid-range and lower treble but with no exaggerated peaks. As a result the soundstage width is quite wide for a neutral signature and it’s coupled with excellent instrument separation. Imaging is also a bit better and seems to project a more 3D-like presentation when compared to the Reference mode. The listener is placed in front of the stage without any trace of congestion resulting in an intimate and pleasing experience.
A fair bit of warning: because the Noble PR is tuned to extract the most detail and resolution, such a feat also comes at a cost… they are painfully revealing of flaws in a track/recording. Sibilant tracks will sound the worst through the Noble PR and it is pertinent that one should consider not only the compression of the music file but the mixing/mastering as well. Aside from the source material, one should be mindful of the volume level too. I normally listen at a fairly loud volume but with the Noble PR, I just can’t. It is just too detailed and revealing for loud music sessions. One more thing: at 240 ohms impedance this mode needs quite a bit of power to perform well so a good reliable amplifier such as the JDSlabs C5 is required to attain its ideal performance. When all of these conditions are met, you will be rewarded with a level of detail you can only get from a TOTL headphone.
The ear guides are well constructed and quite functional for various ear sizes.
The ports and connectors are well built and fit securely, showing no signs of loose connection problems.
CONCLUSION: So is the Noble PR a true "Reference" monitor? In my personal experience, YES and it comes in two flavours. I find the Noble Reference sound signature to be my ideal preference when I want to focus on the vocals in the music. Ballads, A Cappella, and Country are the perfect examples of genres that’ll really shine with the Noble Reference. As for the Noble Pure sound signature, this mode is the perfect solution whenever I want to hear the most detail from a song regardless of the genre. I applaud the level of the clarity, detail, and transparency that Noble was able to attain with the Noble Pure. Is the Noble PR for everyone? Very unlikely… Noble Audio is very straight forward in their description of this IEM in their website: “A purist’s earphone, switch seamlessly between two different interpretations of what “detailed” really means and hear minutiae you’ve never heard before.” and I couldn’t agree more.
Special thanks to Noble Audio for letting me review the Noble PR.
Edited by d marc0 - 6/11/14 at 7:37am